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  • Isaiah the prophet in fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo

The prophets and their work

The Oxford English Dictionary, with its eye on brevity and accuracy, defines a prophet as: "One who speaks for God as the inspired revealer or interpreter of His will". In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament (OT) the word prophet mostly refers to the function of giving a message to the people under the influence of the Spirit of God. In this context the phrase "The word of the LORD came to ..." or similar words are mentioned many times. In the New Testament (NT) the Greek word literally means "one who speaks forth". Among the pagan Greeks it referred to an interpreter of the oracles of the Greek gods.

Religious Prophets

An important difference between a prophet and other religious officials is that the prophet claims no personal part in his utterances. He does not speak his own mind, but a revelation made to him. Although the ability to prophesy is a gift from God, it is not always welcomed. Jeremiah, a prominent prophet in his time, strove to resist the source of his revelation until he was forced to reveal what God wanted him to. There have been occasions when God spoke directly, without the use of a prophet, for instance at the baptism of Jesus Christ: And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”

  • Matthew 3.17

The word prophet is used much more frequently in the OT than in the NT and is first used by God to describe Abraham (Genesis 20.7). This is the only reference to a prophet in Genesis, but in Exodus we begin to get a slightly deeper understanding of the relationship between God and His prophets. God spoke to Moses as He prepared both him and his brother Aaron to go before Pharaoh: 'See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet

  • Exodus 7.1

In this instance the role of the ‘prophet’ was to be a spokesperson who would carry the Word of God and speak it, in this case, directly to the person it was intended for.

Prophets of the Old Testament

Whilst a popular image of a prophet is that of a grey haired and wise old man, the truth is far different.

Samuel was a young lad when he was called by the Lord to reveal His judgement on Eli and his two sons for profaning the House of God. And the gift of prophecy was not restricted to men only, there are women prophets recorded in the Bible as well. All the OT books from Isaiah to Malachi describe the revelations that these prophets made and are divided into two sect ions. The major prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, whilst the last section, the twelve minor prophets, brings the Old Testament to a close. The word minor refers in this instance to the size of the written work, not the importance of the prophecy or the prophet. The revealed prophecy is not always welcomed by the one to whom it is directed, often the king, but it can also apply to a wayward people or a nation. The role of a prophet can involve danger and fear, as seen in the case of Jonah. He was told by God to go to Nineveh, in Assyria, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me

  • Jonah 1.2

But fear of going to Nineveh, which had a terrible reputation, was too much for Jonah, and he fled in the opposite direction. The ensuing account shows the great mercy of the Lord, both in sending His prophet Jonah to warn the Ninevites, and in dealing with Jonah’s reluctance to obey the Lord's command.

  • The massive walls and gateway of Nineveh, the royal city of Israel’s enemies, the Assyrians.
  • We can understand Jonah’s fear of venturing into the city.

This fearful reluctance of a few of God’s prophets must not be confused with the actions of false prophets. The First Book of Kings describes in great detail how Elijah confronted King Ahab, who had led his people into false worship: you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and you have followed the Baals

  • 1 Kings 18.18

The ensuing verses wonderfully demonstrate the judgment and power of the Lord, in dealing with the false prophets of Baal. Anyone who prophesied their own thoughts, and implied that he was speaking the word of the Lord was committing a serious sin and God dealt with such in a very severe manner; the false prophets of Baal were slaughtered. Much earlier the Lord God spoke to Moses saying: But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name, which I have notcommanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die

  • Deuteronomy 18.20

This was necessary so that the spiritual purity of the people would not be profaned. Among the prophetesses of the Old Testament, perhaps Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, is the most well known. Miriam claimed the LORD ‘had spoken’ through her (Numbers 12.2). There were others;

  • Deborah said to Barak Has not the LORD, the God of Israel commanded...? - Judges 4.6
  • The prophetess Huldah in the same way uses the prophetic introductory formula: Thus says the LORD God of Israel ... - 2 Kings 22.15

Prophets of the New Testament

In the New Testament, Luke describes Anna, a prophetess of the tribe of Asher, seeing the infant Jesus, whom his parents had brought to the temple in Jerusalem: And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

  • Luke 2.38

John the Baptist is the first prophet mentioned in the New Testament, and it is a title given to him by Jesus. Speaking about John the Baptist, he asked the multitude what they expected to see when they went out into the wilderness. Jesus explained that John was a prophet and more than a prophet: For this is he of whom it is written: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you"

  • Matthew 11.9

Here Jesus was quoting from the words of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets.

The prophet like Moses

Jesus was the object of many Old Testament prophecies. Moses spoke to the people in the wilderness: the LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.

  • Deuteronomy 18.15

This prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that Jesus was the greatest of the prophets. This was affirmed by a Samaritan woman who, when drawing water from a well, was asked by Jesus for a drink. In the ensuing conversation, Jesus revealed that the woman in her past life had five husbands and her current partner was not her husband. At this startling revelation she said: Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet

  • John 4.19
  • Talking to Jesus as she drew water from the well at Samaria
  • This woman recognised him as a prophet

A little later Jesus travelled from Samaria to Galilee and made the observation that ‘a prophet has no honour in his own country’ (John 4.44). He was well received, but only because the people had seen the miracles he had done in Jerusalem, prompting Jesus to comment: Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe

  • John 4.48

What did Jesus prophecy about himself? Jesus made several predictions about his death and resurrection, each with increasing detail, as recorded in the Gospels. In Luke we read about the parable of the wicked vinedressers, told by Jesus (Luke 20.9-12). A vineyard was leased to some vinedressers. When the owner sent His servants, that they might have some of the harvest, they were beaten and treated shamefully and thrown out of the vineyard. In the end he sent his son, but they decided to murder him so that they could inherit the vineyard themselves. In this parable the vineyard owner is God and the servants were the prophets of the Old Testament. The Son of course is Jesus who, in the words of the parable, prophesied his own death.

He also prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem. The role of the prophet in the Old Testament was to foretell the future and the truths about God. Jesus did both of these things.

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

  • Luke 21.20-22

This destruction of Jerusalem took place less than 40 years later in AD 70. The most well-known prophecy that Jesus made regarding himself, apart from his own death and resurrection, was his return to the earth to establish God's kingdom, often referred to as the 'second coming'. It will be a time when all the evil and corruption of this world will be done away with, and peace and righteousness will fill the earth. The prophet Isaiah describes this wonderful time in these words: They (the nations) shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.

  • Isaiah 2.4


Because a prophet is speaking the words of God through divine inspiration, it is important to hear what the message says, to understand it and most importantly abide by it. The parables of Jesus illustrate this very well, and what will happen if these prophecies are ignored.

The greatest prophecy the world has ever received is the Gospel message concerning the coming kingdom of God as foreseen by the prophets. Jesus will set up this kingdom on his return to the earth. It is our fervent prayer that our readers, with us, will be found ready and waiting for that day, and be granted God’s great gift of eternal life. To them, Jesus will say: Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

  • Matthew 25.34
  • Author Chris Farnworth
  • Country Surrey, UK
  • Source Light on a New World reprint from Volume 30.3

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